Should you follow your passion?

Should you follow your passion?

Chopping chives, frying fish, beating batter, or otherwise preparing food makes me borderline homicidal. I dislike the feeling of sticky hands, of splattering oil, of puffs of flour, and of seemingly every culinary sensation. What if my kitchen duties were part of a job that was “purposed,” meaning it made a positive social impact? Would that change anything? For example, what if I cooked at café that stayed open an additional hour to feed adorable children, worthy families, and cute kittens who happened to be homeless?

I would want to murder all those lovely creatures.

Yes. I, the purpose zealot, admit that purpose won’t fix my cooking-induced rage. That’s not to say that the purposed version of my odious job won’t be more motivating and engaging than the purpose-deprived version. Per the findings presented in prior posts, it will.

Still,  I won’t suddenly relish the “sensual stimulation” of chopping chives, as chef and restaurateur, Alice Water, does. Purpose and passion are distinctly separate elements of fulfilling work. They can’t replace each other. Morten Hansen, management professor at the University of California, Berkeley, explains the difference as follows: “Passion is ‘do what you love,’ while purpose is ‘do what contributes.’” If you loathe the tasks that make up your work, you won’t love them after you’ve job purposed.

The ideal is to have both passion and purpose. Waters, for example, brings purpose to her passion by using her restaurant as a mechanism to support organic farmers. By crusading for organic food, she protects our environment. Indeed, her purposed for-profit job has likely accomplished as much for the environment as our most effective sustainability nonprofits.

Waters is also an outrageously successful entrepreneur. She owns one of the world’s best-known restaurants, holds several James Beard awards, including one for lifetime achievement, and received the National Humanities Medal from the National Endowment for the Humanities. She’s clearly passionate about food, but might not have been this accomplished had she skipped job purposing.

Hansen’s five-year research on 5000 workers uncovered that people with both passion and purpose, like Waters, place in the 80th percentile in performance, on average, per supervisor ratings. If you take passion away but still have purpose, average performance drops to the 64th percentile. If you take purpose away and are left with only passion, however, performance plummets to the 20th percentile. Ouch.

In other words, if you have to choose between passion and purpose, choose purpose. It appears that we can perform well without passion, at least for a while, but maybe not without purpose. Maybe it’s because, as Waters put it, “We can be complete only when we are giving something away.”

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3 Responses

  1. Hi Bea:

    I’m checking both boxes.
    Passion – “check”
    Purpose – “check”

    1. Roger, you’ve elegantly pulled off what Morten Hansen calls “p-squared” (purpose + passion). If his research is right, this is part of the reason you are so darn successful.

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